Stare north out of one of the floor-to-ceiling windows that line a fifth-floor room at the Walnut Hill Medical Center and you almost forget you’re in Dallas.
From here, Greenville Avenue looks more like a two-lane highway, cutting down the middle of the lush greens of the Royal Oaks Country Club and Harry Moss Park. Roofs of suburban homes peek out over the trees.
The eight-story hospital is Dallas’ newest, which a Forbes contributor recently touted as ‘The Hospital Steve Jobs Would Have Built.’ It held its soft opening on Wednesday and already has 10 procedures booked for next week: “We were actually trying our hardest to do it all slowly, but our doctors are wanting to send everything to us,” says Lyle Rountree, the chief experience officer.
Rountree is just as eager to talk about the thread count of the bed sheets (above 300) as he is the rare hybrid OR on the fifth floor, a spacious room that doubles as a cardiac catheterization lab and a cardiovascular operating room for emergency open heart surgery.
Press releases announcing the project said its founders designed the hospital “entirely from the patient’s perspective.” Hence the 10-foot windows, the comfortable bedding, the carefully designed open layout, the cutting-edge medical technology, the from-scratch cafeteria.
“I look at it as, you know, you live in the big city, you kind of make your way and decide you want to go back to a smaller town where everyone knows your name,” Rountree says from the lobby. “You’re a little more in control, you’ve kind of learned the best practices from all the different places you’ve worked, now it’s time to go somewhere and put them all to use.”
The idea for Walnut Hill goes back about a decade. A group of healthcare higher-ups from Dallas joined together and did what plenty of other folks in the same industry have a tendency to do when they’re in each other’s company: They dreamed up their ideal workplace scenario, one that wasn’t beholden to a board of directors or out-of-town stakeholders. “You’re not just worried about everyone’s pocketbook,” Rountree says.
Every aspect of the hospital was carefully considered, even the mandatory and complimentary valet parking, which, Rountree assures, is not just a silly add-on. If you doubt him, he will discuss the dark underground parking garage that hospital officials decided not to subject its patients to.
Look at the Intensive Care Unit on the sixth floor: Typically punctuated by long shifts caring for patients in serious conditions, the hospital planners saw long stints in the ICU wreak havoc on physicians’ psyches.
Walnut Hill’s, which doubles as a Critical Care Unit, is bright and open, rather than windowless and enclosed. It offers patients privacy and has couches that fold out into beds so family members can stay in the room with their loved one. The beds electronically weigh each patient and immediately file it into the patient’s electronic medical record: “We wanted this floor to really be kind of our shining star,” Rountree says.
In all, there are 16 beds in the ICU. There are also 84 private suites. The hospital offers an array of different services: cardiovascular, gynecologic, imaging, general surgery, emergency medicine, and intensive care. The building, which was built in 1983, was gutted and rebuilt completely to provide a more open, fluid floorplan for its employees.
It’s also built as an educational tool. In that hybrid OR, cardiac surgeons will have the technology to beam the operation to other hospitals and classrooms across the country. A two-way feed allows students to ask the operating surgeons questions about what they’re doing. All the while, someone is receiving the care they need.
“We can hold off and do didactic work as we’re doing live work,” said Jon Albama, director of cardiac services. “Not only will it tube to our facility, it’ll tube to around the nation and around the world.”
The $100 million hospital is physician-invested, not physician-owned. The difference means that Walnut Hill will be able to achieve certification to serve Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
The federal Stark law does not allow Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to get care at a hospital from a physician who has a financial relationship with that entity. The physicians behind Walnut Hill created a construction corporation that paid for the building. They do not receive payments on a sliding scale based on volume or type of care, Rountree says. They are lenders to the operating company, which is separate, and they receive the same amount of money each month.
The Joint Commission will perform the surveying for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. They’ll judge the certification based on the care of 30 inpatients that stay at least two nights. Officials expect the process to be complete in June.
Until it receives certification, the hospital will provide discounts to its out-of-network patients, bringing the cost down to about what it would be if the care was in network, Rountree said. Costs will be competitive with other hospitals, including its neighbor, Presbyterian Memorial Hospital.
“We wouldn’t be able to survive if we were too expensive,” Rountree said.